Déjà vu All Over Again: Another Opening Day Finally Arrives
The first week of April brings shouts of “Play ball!” across the country, as spring training gives way to Opening Day. And while North Carolina is generally considered more of a basketball or football hub, there is quite a bit of baseball history here, too.
Here are 9 bits of North Carolina baseball trivia for you – one for each inning.
- Modern baseball was introduced to North Carolina during the Civil War, when Union troops played the game as prisoners at a camp in Salisbury. After the war, the game’s popularity spread throughout our state.
- By 1900, amateur and semi-professional baseball teams could be found in most North Carolina towns – 70 teams played organized ball at some point, second only to Texas.
- North Carolina’s Textile League featured semi-pro teams in the Piedmont region. The league was made up of teams of workers at textile mills, including the Cooleemee Cools, the Kannapolis Towelers, the Sailsbury Greyhounds and the Concord Weavers. The league lasted one season in 1935 and then became the Carolina League.
- About 400 major league players were born in North Carolina, including Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm, Rick Ferrell, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Luke Appling, Enos Slaughter, Gaylord Perry and Buck Leonard. Leonard, born in Rocky Mount, played for the Homestead Grays in the Negro Leagues when professional baseball was still segregated. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Leonard #47 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.
- Technically, Babe Ruth hit his first minor-league home run with the Orioles in Fayetteville in 1914. But that was in a spring training exhibition game, so officially, his four-bagger in Toronto a few months later counts as his first.
- Winston-Salem native Ernie Shore is known for throwing a nearly perfect game on June 23, 1917. Babe Ruth was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox against the Washington Senators. After he walked the very first batter, Ruth was ejected for assaulting the umpire (!). When Shore came in as his replacement, that first batter was caught stealing second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters in a row. For 74 years, Shore was credited with a perfect game, since he technically achieved 27 consecutive outs with no batter reaching base. In 1991, stricter definitions for perfect games were enacted and today, Shore is credited with a no-hitter. For walking the only batter he faced, The Babe gets credit for a shared no-hitter – the first combined no-hitter in Major League history.
- Mildred Meacham – born in Charlotte and still living there today – played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s Fort Wayne Daisies, later being traded to the Racine Belles and the Springfield Sallies. Meacham finished her career with a .179 batting average, and 24 stolen bases in 97 games. She’s enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Women in Baseball permanent exhibit.
- Bull Durham’s lead character Crash Davis is named after Lawrence Columbus “Crash” Davis, a pro baseball player raised in Gastonia. He earned his nickname at 14 years old when he collided with a teammate going after a fly ball. He excelled as an infielder at Duke University, then played professionally for the Philadelphia Athletics. His career was interrupted by a Navy stint during World War II, and he finished out his playing days with the Durham Bulls, the Reidsville Luckies and the Raleigh Capitals, retiring in 1952.
- He’s basketball’s most famous and celebrated player, but Wilmington’s Michael Jordan took a brief hoops hiatus to play minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons during the 1994 season. While not exactly a baseball phenom, Jordan did end up with a career batting average of .202, just above the Mendoza Line. In July 1994, the 31-year-old Jordan was credited with a sacrifice fly at a game against the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon.
Spring in North Carolina is perfect baseball weather. Grab a friend, get outside, and have a catch!